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Book 2: Abbott, Aaron (c1782 - 1868) and James (c1779 - 1850) SHEEP LOST & FOUND

Abbott, Aaron (c1782 - 1868) and James (c1779 - 1850) SHEEP LOST & FOUND

The Northampton Mercury for the 3rd March 1804 has an advertisement by the Harleston Association which is a mixture of self-congratulation and warning. It tells of a reward of £25 that it had recently paid to a shepherd for detecting who had stolen one of the lambs from his flock. This information had brought a man to justice and he had been found guilty and sentenced to be hung.

These private prosecution associations began in the eighteenth century as the old village constable system became increasingly unable to cope with the changing world. Also, for most crimes the law was still based on victims pursuing their own claims through the courts. The association members, however, paid an annual subscription and this fund was used to offer rewards and also to pay the cost of prosecution. Of course, it was only the reasonably well off who could afford to pay for this protection.

The main aim of these associations was the protection of property, especially of farm buildings, machinery, crops and livestock. As Richard Cowley, in his book Guilty M’lud, points out, the reward for information leading to a conviction for rick burning was £50 and for sheep stealing was £25 but for highway robbery was only £5 5s. These Harleston Association figures reflect the severity of the law on these offences. In Northamptonshire, in the period between 1780 and 1839, nine people were hung for murder but twelve were hung for horse or sheep theft. For the rest of the nineteenth century the only executions were for murder, with a maximum of three in any one decade.

During the eighteenth century the new wealthy classes had brought in a wide range of, often petty, offences for which the death penalty was mandatory. Known as the ‘Bloody Code’, some 220 offences were made punishable by death, including: ‘being in the company for Gypsies for one month’, ‘strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7-14 years’, and ‘blacking the face or using a disguise whilst committing a crime’. In the countryside, ‘Enclosures’ and the protecting of this privatised Common land was a key driving force in the introduction of this harsh new code. Sheep replaced the medieval ‘royal game’ and the poacher became the new Robin Hood. The French Revolution and the sometimes violent unrest caused by agricultural depression and rapid mechanisation further increased the fears of those in power.

The Harleston Association was quite a newcomer, being formed in 1798 but it enjoyed the patronage of Earl Spencer who lived near the village of Harleston, at Althorp, and it quickly became one of the richest groups. The manors of Great Addington and Harleston had been tied together since the sixteenth century with the same family holding both. The advertisement in the Northampton Mercury had referred to a case in the previous year:

At the Annual Meeting of the Association, held the 23rd February instant, at the sign of the Fox and Hounds, in Harleston, in the County of Northampton, the Treasurer paid the sum of £.25 pound to John Goodman, Shepherd to Thomas Checkley, of Great Addington, in the said County, Farmer (a Member of this Association), as a Reward allowed by this Society for detecting Aaron Abbott, Shepherd to Mr Fascutt of Ringstead, in the same County, in stealing a Lamb from the Flock of the same Thomas Checkley, in Great-Addington Field, in the Month of March last; of which the said Aaron Abbott was convicted at the last Summer Assize held for the said County, and then condemned to be hanged.

That would appear to be that, but, like many advertisements, it does not tell the whole story. If we look back at the Northampton Mercury for Saturday March19th 1803 we see that Aaron Abbott was committed to the County Gaol by Thomas Carter, for stealing a lamb. In the July 16th issue we see that he was charged with the offence and was sent to the next Assizes. The following week we see that Aaron and four other prisoners ‘were capitally convicted and received sentences of death’. It continues, however,’ . . . but were all reprieved before the Judges left Northampton’.

The possibility of a ‘French Revolution’ in England increased fears but also persuaded the authorities to temper these terrible laws. The ‘Royal Pardon’ was routinely used and the judges themselves had the power to reprieve, those on whom they had so recently passed the mandatory death sentence. Nevertheless, one can imagine Aaron’s time in the condemned cell, perhaps being weighed for the ‘drop’, and his relief at the reprieve. The Harleston Association wished to emphasise the worst that could happen to a sheep-stealer and did not mention Aaron’s almost immediate reprieve.

The year of Aaron’s crime was a significant one for, after being blocked in 1780, the parish of Great Addington was ‘enclosed’ in 1803 just a few months after he was sentenced. Like poaching, sheep stealing from the farmers and landowners on enclosed land or land to be enclosed, was sometimes seen as a form of protest both against enclosure and the rise of sheep farming. Aaron was a shepherd himself, however, although probably working on the Open fields. Ringstead had also successfully opposed an attempt to enclose the parish and it would not finally happen until 1841. Unfortunately the details of Aaron’s case, like many others, have been lost so we cannot tell whether it was protest, poverty or greed that led Aaron to take a lamb from a neighbouring shepherd’s flock. Nor do we know if it was Mr Checkley’s action of summoning Aaron that   led to a reprisal raid against him. Certainly, in the 2nd of June 1804 edition of the Northampton Mercury, the Harleston Association had once again to offer a reward for the apprehension of the people who entered into:

. . . the Garden belonging to, and in the Occupation of, Mr. Thomas Checkley, of Great Addington, in Northamptonshire, Farmer, ( Member of the Association), and STEAL and TAKE AWAY THEREOUT a large Quantity of very fine CABBAGES; and did also STEAL and TAKE AWAY out of his Chaff-House and Stable, about THREE PECKS OF BEANS and a new RYING-SIEVE, which is branded with the letters T. C. on the Rim.

It may also have been an uncomfortable life for John Goodman, Mr Checkley’s shepherd, who had reported Aaron for the theft. Look through the Parish Registers of Great Addington and the neighbouring parishes and the surname Abbott (or Abbot or Abbut) litters the pages.

Aaron had been baptised in the village church on 29th December 1782, the son of Daniel and Hannah Abbott. Daniel was from the village but he had married Hannah Percival in her home parish of Twywell on 22nd May 1775. He was described as a ‘sandman’ which probably meant that he worked in one of the small quarries or pits which were dotted along the Nene Valley. All their children were baptised in the Great Addington parish church. Before Aaron, had come the oldest, William (baptised 4th April 1776) and James (baptised 25th July 1779) who seems to have been the sibling to whom he was closest. After Aaron there was Sophia (baptised 31st March 1793 and buried some two weeks later on the 15th April) and then the twins Moses and Sophia (baptised 2nd August 1795). Moses too died soon after his birth (11th August).

We do not know what sentence, if any, Aaron served after his reprieve but it may be that the time that he had already served was deemed sufficient. It is possible that he then had to move to Grafton Underwood, perhaps caused by the death of his employer. Certainly a Robert Foscutt, aged 83 years who was a dealer and farmer was buried in Ringstead, on 4th August 4th 1806. We do know that at Grafton Underwood, on 1st August 1809, that Aaron married Martha Draper. Both bride and groom signed with an ‘X’ and Aaron’s older brother, James who was one of the witnesses, also signed with an X. The other witness, who signed with his full name, was the Parish Clerk, Thomas Carley. He was a remarkable man who was born without hands but had taught himself how to write a beautiful copperplate hand by holding the pen in his teeth and had become the village schoolmaster.

Martha Draper had been baptised in Grafton Underwood on 1st August 1779, the daughter of Charles and Elizabeth Draper. Charles is variously described in the Baptismal Register as a ‘weaver’ and a ‘pauper’. It is perhaps surprising to realise that this part of Northamptonshire once had a large cottage industry in weaving. The Victoria History of the County of Northamptonshire tells us that weaving was extensively carried out:

. . . in the district embraced by the parishes of Kettering, Rothwell, Desborough, Braybrooke, Little Bowden, and the neighbouring villages. The principle articles woven were tammies and shalloons. The former was a thin woollen material of open texture used for straining purposes; it was also made into flags, often in bright colours. The latter was made of a coarse woollen stuff.

The textile industry was one of the first to be industrialised with Leicestershire and the West Riding of Yorkshire becoming the main areas for woollen worsted spinning and weaving factories. The weaving industry in Northamptonshire collapsed from being 11% of male employment in 1777 to just 1% in 1851. The hundreds of Rothwell, Corby, Guilsborough, Spelhoe and Huxloe (which included Great Addington) were the five main weaving areas and their populations tended to decline while those around were increasing. These out-of-work weavers flooded the agricultural employment market. Unfortunately that too declined after the Napoleonic Wars and it was only the rise of shoemaking, and, to some extent, lacemaking for the women which helped parishes such as Ringstead.

It may be that the couple moved back to Ringstead, if indeed Aaron had ever left, for all their children were baptised there. These were William Abbott who was born on 3rd March 1810 and baptised on 7th October of the same year; Thomas Draper Abbott, born 6th November 1811, baptised 1st December 1811; Esther, baptised 4th December 1817 and Elizabeth, Hannah, Esther and James baptised together on 31st December 1820. This batch baptising of families was not unusual and it seems that Esther was baptised twice but this was not a rare occurrence.

Within a few years of these last baptisms, Aaron and Martha took a decision which would change their lives forever but, first, we will look briefly at the life of his older brother, James.

As we have seen, James was baptised on 25th July 1779 but the first we have any record of him as an adult is from a curious entry in the Great Addington Register. On the 31st January 1817 Lucy and Rebecca Abbott are christened in the parish church. The parents are set down as James and Ann. Ann is recorded as living in the village but against James is the puzzling entry, ‘America’ and for his occupation it has, ‘Late Shoemaker’. What Ann’s maiden name was, and if and where the couple married, has still not been found.

When we next encounter the two brothers and their families it is some six years later and they are stepping off a ship in New York harbour before going on to Upper Canada. We can only assume that James had gone ahead and checked out the new lands before his brother’s family and his own followed him to the New World. Certainly there are two Land Petitions for a James Abbott in Wentworth County in Upper Canada [Ontario], in 1817 and 1819. The first petition was for a smaller town lot but these ‘free lots’ were often for 100 or 200 acres in the new areas which had been carved out of the virgin lands of the local peoples for the settlers by the British Government. Wherever there are straight lines on a map it usually means the boundaries have been drawn by a colonial power. In 1820 and 1821 the Government had given a ‘bounty’ of £10 to each emigrant to Canada but this had been stopped although, as the Northampton Mercury reported on 22nd December 1821:

Grants of land will be given to settlers as before and they will be gratuitously furnished with husbandry implements, but nothing farther.

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars times were very hard for most working people. The Mercury reported on 31st May 1817, on an area some 40 miles to the east of Ringstead, that:

The rage for emigration from the Isle of Ely to America has not yet subsided. Farmers, tradesmen and mechanics are continually quitting their native Isle to seek a livelihood in a distant land. A vessel went round to Wisbech for passengers and in a few days upward of 90 applications were made.

It seems that James returned to England and collected the rest of the party before re-crossing the Atlantic with them on the Comet. There are a number of boats and ships named Comet at this time but it is likely that this Comet was a 250 ton single deck ship. According to the Lloyds Register of Shipping for 1823 it was American owned and built in about 1816. A steam-driven paddle steamer built in 1812, also named Comet, was working along the Clyde but steam was still in its infancy partly because of the amount of coal needed for any long voyage. Even in 1903, Scott’s ship, Discovery, had sails as well as engines because of this problem of coal storage on a comparatively small ship.

We know that the Comet, under George Moore’s captaincy, sailed from London, leaving Cowes on the Isle of Wight on December 31st and arrived in New York on 6th March 1823. Another immigrant to Canada in 1823 took seven weeks and two days to get to Quebec so this seems a long voyage but times were very dependent on the weather. It was still a perilous journey. The Connaught Journal on 3rd March 1823 tells of a ship, called the Phoebe of 370 tons being totally wrecked at Glanbeigh in County Kerry in Ireland. It was carrying timber from the New World and was the other side of the ocean but it shows the dangers of such a voyage.  The advertisement in The Times of November 18th 1822 may give some idea of why it took so long.

For New York (to succeed the Acasta) and first ship, having her heavy goods on board, the fine fast sailing, American SHIP Comet, A1, coppered and copper fastened, George Moore, Commander, burden 300 tons; lying in London Dock. Here accommodations for passengers are elegant and spacious and cabin passengers are found with bedding upon the principle of the Liverpool packet ships. For freight and passage apply to Capt. Moore at the New England coffee house; to Richard Pettit, College-hill; or to Hopkins and Glover, brokers, ‘Change Alley.

This was essentially a cargo ship, also taking passengers. It may be that there were further stops along the English and perhaps the Irish and American Coasts. Also the advertisement does not mention the conditions for steerage passengers which, on a single deck ship may have been very basic. It would have been difficult and probably unpleasant voyage during the worst of the winter months, especially for Aaron and Martha with two very young children.

George Moore, the captain of the Comet, had been born in Littlehampton in 1792 and began his maritime career as a cabin boy. He emigrated to America in 1817 and became a captain and one of the founders of the London Line. He was a friend of the writer Washington Irving and named one of his sons after him. Unfortunately we also find that in 1825 the Comet, with George as the captain carried slaves along the east coast of America into the port of Savannah. Although the slave trade had been abolished in 1807 in much of the British Empire (but not in territories run by the East India Company or in Ceylon and it was not until 1833 that slavery was finally abolished in all the Empire. In the United States, although it was banned and attempts were made to stop the slave ships, the trade continued, and the American Civil War was fought partly over the south’s unwillingness to give up slavery. In all this time the ‘internal’ movement of slaves along the east coast of America and the Gulf of Mexico continued. A ship called the Comet was taking slaves from the District of Columbia to New Orleans when it was wrecked on January 3rd 1831 on the Bahamas Bank and 164 slaves were taken to Nassau in New Providence where they were freed. Great Britain eventually paid an indemnity for these slaves. We know from the Lloyd’s Register that George Moore was commander of a Comet in 1831 but it may not have been the one that was wrecked which was a ‘brig’. Nevertheless it is worth seeing just what was happening in the United states at this time.

In opposing the passage of a Bill through the American House of Representatives in 1843, to pass on this ‘recompense’ to the slave owners who ‘lost’ slaves in 1831, Joshua Reed Giddings spoke movingly of what had happened:

We are called on to interpose the supreme power of the nation to aid the pecuniary views of certain individuals, resident in this District and vicinity, who, in 1831, entered into a commercial speculation for the purchase, exportation and sale, of a certain other portion of the population resident here and in the surrounding country. For this purpose they chartered the ship “Comet”, to sail from Alexandria to New Orleans; they then made their purchases of men women and children. Here, sir, in sight of the Hall in which we are now sitting, and in full view of the “star spangled banner” which floats over this edifice, consecrated to the maintenance of our national honor and human freedom, they examined the bodies, viewed the proportions, determined upon the age, and fixed the value of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children. Then came the separation. All the ties of domestic life were severed; the child torn from its parents; brothers were taken, while parents and sisters were left; the fond mother chained to the cofle and forced from her home and hearth amid the heart-rending cries of her child; while deep agony and unutterable anguish sat upon every countenance except those of the slave-dealers, who, without a pulsation of human sympathy, with whip in hand, forced their drove of “human chattels’ on board the slave ship lying at yonder wharf, in plain view of the windows in front of our Hall.

So it was on a ship which would be used for slaves two years later that the Abbotts arrived in New York. The passenger list records that James Abbot was 40 years old and his wife, Ann, was 50. James is recorded as a shoemaker. With them are their children Rebecca (17) and William (12). There is no sign of Lucy who was baptised in 1817 and William has not previously appeared in the records. The entry in the original log is very difficult to decipher and he is the same age as the William who is the son of Aaron. This is, of course, possible but it seems a little odd. It may be that this doubler entry is a mistake for I have found no sign of him in Canada. The full list of Aaron’s family who travelled are Aaron (38), Martha (39), William (12), Thomas (10), Anna, who was christened Hannah, (9), Elizabeth (7), Esther (5) and James (3). The ages do not quite match up but this is not unusual.

The route via New York was considered the more expensive way of travelling so we can only wonder as to why the family used it. As we have seen, it may have been a cheap passage, travelling on what was essentially a cargo ship. From New York there were a number of possible routes that they could have taken. Perhaps the most likely would have been by boat up the Hudson River to Albany, then westward along the Mohawk River and Erie Canal, which, although partly built at this time, did have some sections open to traffic. Once at the shores of Lake Ontario they could have taken a sailing ship to Hamilton and Cootes Paradise. A less likely route would have been by steamer from New York around the coast and up the Hudson River, transferring to an open ‘Durham’ boat for the upper reaches. This boat would use a sail where possible and be ‘poled’ through the shallows to Lake Ontario. Travel by boat was generally easier and safer than going overland at this time, before the coming of the railways.

James had received, on 12th November 1817, a ‘town lot’ at Lot 5, on the north side of Ancaster Street in Cootes Paradise, a beautiful wetland now part of the city of Hamilton on the western end of Lake Ontario. One of his descendants has told me that the family believes that he made use of his old skills and set up a boot and shoe repair business there. He did not sell this lot until 1830 so it seems probable that, on their arrival, the two families first lived in Cootes Paradise while they tried to secure land.

All these lands, of what became south Ontario, were purchased by the British from the Mississauga, originally part of the Ojibwa nation in the 1780s to give grants of land to American loyalists, (loyal to Britian), who had lost their land as a result of the American War of Independence. Recently the Canadian government has awarded some $145 million to the Mississauga as a settlement of a land claim because of the original gross underpayment in the 1790s.

Aaron, like his brother, had applied for land in Wentworth in 1824. In these petitions the applicant had to give good reasons why they should be given a free land grant. It would seem, therefore, that the two families first tried to settle in Wentworth County but then, for some reason then tried their luck in Eramosa in Wellington County. Eramosa was, at that time, mainly occupied by military officers and British loyalists from the United States although a new wave of immigrants was beginning. The name, ‘Eramosa’, as the Reverend William Barrie pointed out, when opening the new Presbyterian Church in 1861, has a ‘sonorous ring’ but:

                It is said to be the name given to it by the Indians and in their language it means a dead dog.

What would the two Abbott families have found, in this part of Upper Canada, different to their home in Ringstead? Eramosa would have had a similar population but instead of the closely packed ‘ring village’ there would have been straight tracks with log houses strung along them. The land would have been largely forested with rocky outcrops and swamps. After the beautiful, but homely Nene Valley it would have seemed a vast, awe-inspiring country with the limestone outcrops shimmering in the River Eramosa.

The weather would have not been so different to England but with drier winters and snow rather than rain, with little springtime, and hot summers, dry but with a sapping humidity, which parched the land until the arrival of the Autumn rains in October and November. In 1846, Wm. H, Smith produced, as he states, the first Canadian Gazetteer. He notes:

Much has been written against, and strange notions are prevalent in Britain respecting the climate of Canada. Most persons on the other side of the Atlantic imagine that the winter is so severe, and the snow so deep, that it is impossible for any one to stir out of doors without being wrapped up to their eyebrows in furs or woollens; nor even without the risk of being frozen to death, or lost in the snow. This is a very erroneous idea. . .

Of course Smith was trying to ‘sell’ Canada and perhaps underplays both the humid summer heat which Elysia DeLaurentis, at the Wellington Museum and Archives, assures me can often get into the high 80s Fahrenheit. He also downplays the ‘ague; which apparently the British were concerned about, comparing it to judging the healthiness of the climate of England by the Fens. Nevertheless at this time the area of Upper Canada would have had swamp and forest and mosquitoes and black fly would have been a constant irritation and danger to the Abbotts during May especially. Even today the insects can make it almost impossible to work outside without proper protection, (and we have not mentioned the horseflies and deerflies). In northern Ontario they still wear hats with netting draped down over their heads to protect as much tender skin as possible. In the 1950s, Canadian singer Wade Hemsworth recorded a song called, The Blackfly Song, which has the chorus:

And the black flies, the little black flies,

Always the black fly no matter where you go;

I'll die with the black fly a-pickin' my bones,

In North Ontar-i-o-i-o, In North Ontar-i-o-i-o.

There are land petitions for both James and Aaron in Eramosa in 1829. James was granted 100 acres by the Crown on 17th August 1829 but on 9th October of the same year he sold it again, to Thomas Brown. We will look, later, at the possible reason for this sudden sale. For Aaron, however, this was the end of his journey.

In Here and There in Eramosa Frank Day tells us that:

. . . the story is told locally that the couple reached Lot seventeen about dusk. Tired with their travel, it is said that they spent their first night on the new farm sleeping on the ground beside a fallen maple tree.

Aaron was granted 200 acres, a huge area by Ringstead standards. This did not mean, however, that the land was his. In order for this to happen he first had to build a house at least 20 ft. by 16ft in size and live there for two years. He also had to level half a road in front of his property and clear, cultivate and fence ten acres of the land. Emigration Handbooks were produced each year for the emigrants, although many would not have been able to read them. The one for 1820 makes it clear that these first years would be very hard but for those who persevered it could lead to real prosperity.

If the emigrant farmer should be poor, he will have difficulties to encounter in establishing himself. Arrived at his land, he will have no shelter till he erects his house; he then cuts down trees and clears his ground of brushwood &c. by fire. By degrees he ameliorates his land, obtains shelter for his cattle &c. Enterprising men who have courage to surmount difficulties, will in the end do very well, as thousands have done.

John Harris, an Irishman from Cork wrote a diary of his life between 1811 and 1830. In 1820 he arrived in Eramosa just a few years before the Abbotts. The brief entries there give some indication of the day-to-day chores that would have made up much of the settlers’ lives. In May 1822 he records:

                16           Ephriam Conroy with me chopping

                17           Wm Smith Snr with me chopping

                18           Wm Smith Snr with me burning brush

                20           Chopping

                23           with J. Ramsey chopping

                24           Wm Smith with me chopping. J Ramsey went out.

                25           Rolling

                27,28     Burning

                29           Made L. Ramsey a pair of shoes

                30           Cutting potatoes. Adolphus Armstrong arrived and stopped all night

                31           Made garden

                1 June   Planting corn


He was also walking 15 to 20 miles on many occasions for provisions, friendship or business. The shoe-making which punctuates his diary was obviously a sideline that helped supplement his income until he sold his crops – or ate them.

Aaron did have the help of his two older sons, and perhaps his other children as they grew up. His neighbours, too, would have helped him build his first ‘shanty’, a small log dwelling without windows, as he and his family would be expected to help others. Later a more permanent ‘house’, with windows, would be built. The first of these house ‘raisings’ in Eramosa was recalled many years later in the Guelph Evening Mercury, by the son of John Ramsey:

The first log house put up in the Township is still standing on Mr. John Ramsey’s farm. It was raised in 1823 and took the united strength  of every man in the township – twelve in all – to put it up, assisted by three gallons of whiskey, which Mr Ramsey carried on his back from Dundas Street, for the occasion.

Even so, it was not until 1836 that Aaron was able to prove to the Land Agent that he had done all that was necessary and the ‘grant’ was signed over to him. It is possible that some of the family worked in the neighbourhood, to provide money or goods, until the farm was a going concern.

Writing of the nearby township of Puslinch, Charles Callfas tells of the winter of 1842 when the snow was on the ground from November until May so that not a, ‘ fence nor stump could be seen’. He goes on to tell of his father who:

. . . built a shanty about sixteen feet square which housed eighteen persons for several months when a second one was erected. Trees were hewn down, burned or sold for almost nothing. They used the hoe for a plough, covered the grain by scratching it with brush and cut it with a sickle. He stated that bears were numerous and bold. Even in daylight they could come looking in the windows and often steal little pigs out of the pen. The cattle defended the sheep against the wolves. At night oxen would lie down a distance apart and the sheep would get between them for safety.

Young people usually adapt quickly to new surroundings but for the Abbott children, although it must have been a wonderful playground when freed from work, it would also have been, at times, a frightening place. Another early Eramosa settler, Lazarus Parkinson, later told of the wolves from a young boy’s perspective:

Our cattle running in the woods were chased home by the wolves two or three times during the winter. The wolves would pursue the cattle as the shades of evening were gathering thick and gloomily in the deep recesses of the forest, close up to the clearing, and then the whole pack would set up a dreadful howl. Night coming on with its darkness rendered more gloomy by the thick woods that surrounded our dwelling at no great distance, the winds sighed mournfully in the tree-tops, and the thrilling, piercing, doleful howl of the wolves, caused a strange feeling to pass through the minds of us boys and made us creep close to our big fire, and sit quietly watching its red-glowing coals, its bright blaze ever varying in form and color, wondering to ourselves why wolves should howl so hideously.

The two Abbott couples were older than the usual pioneers and James was older than his brother. Also while Aaron had been a shepherd, James had worked as a shoemaker. It seems that Aaron was able to build a good life in Eramosa but that James, for whatever reason, was not able to take advantage of the free agricultural land.

At some stage James and Ann moved to Trafalgar Township, Halton County, west of Toronto, which has now been amalgamated into the town of Oakville. There is a gravestone in the Palermo United Cemetery in Oakville, which records the deaths of the couple. At the bottom it states that Ann died on 19th October 1829, aged 66 years. This is just ten days after the sale of his land in Eramosa and it is possible that with Ann sick he realised that he would not be able to manage the land. I think that Ann’s age may be a mistake for Ann was fifty when they were on the Comet in 1823 and, looking at her husband’s and children’s ages, fifty-six would seem more likely.

Perhaps, because of her death, James also sold his town lot in Cootes Paradise. There is an Indenture of Bargain and Sale, dated 1830:

. . . from James Abbott to Allan Napier MacNabb for 3/5 of an acre, lot 8, south side of Ancaster St. In the town of Cootes Paradise.

[Allan Napier MacNabb made his fortune in property speculation and later became the Canadian Prime Minister.]

The same gravestone records that James died on 24th December 1850 aged 71 years and 6 months. Next to this grave is another small stone which records the burial of Jane Abbott, ‘Relict [widow] of James Abbott, in her sixtieth year, on September 28th [8 not clear] 1857 [could be 1851], Native of Brixton’. It seems that James re-married after the death of Ann. I have not managed to find James or Jane‘s marriage or them in residence together. There is no Brixton in Canada so presumably it is the area of London that this refers to but does this mean that she had not lived long in Canada?  James’s hidden life is probably just a result of him moving from place to place.

In contrast to James, Aaron had settled for life in Eramosa and the 1833 Census of the Township records his household as:

                Abbott, Aaron, 3 males (16+): 1 male (0-16): 3 females (16+)

Aaron is shown again on the same ‘project’ in 1837-8. By then, of course, he had made the land his own. By 1851 he is seventy years old and recorded as a ‘Gentleman’ which means that he was not having to work for a living. With him and Martha is their son James (30) with his wife Mary Ann and their four children. His oldest son, William had married Martha Black who was born in Ireland and may have been a relative of James Black (although he was from Scotland) who had founded the Everton Church Disciples of Christ. Most of the younger Abbotts seem to have become members of this local church but Aaron and Martha, as well as their youngest son, James, retained their old allegiance to the Church of England.

The Agricultural Census of 1851 confirms that Aaron is still on the farm with his son James and it also fills in some of the details of what they were growing on their joint holding of 200acres. They had 80 acres under cultivation with 50 of these under crops, (Aaron had 6 ¾ and James 8 acres of this under wheat), and 30 under pasture. There were still 120 acres ‘under wood or wild’. It seems likely that father and son ran the lots as one farm.

On the 26th December 1852 Martha died. The couple had decided that they would be buried on the spot where they had spent that first night, on their lot beside the fallen maple tree, and accordingly she was laid to rest there and a headstone erected.

In the 1861 Census Aaron is still living on the lot with his son James and his wife and family. The land records show that the farm was sold in 1863, perhaps so that he could leave something to all his children, although in 1867 he is still listed as living on Concession 6 Lot 17 as a freeholder, with his son William farming beside him on Lot 15. It may be, therefore, that it was on Aaron’s death that the house was sold

Aaron would have lived long enough to have become recognized as one of the fathers of the township and in May 1866 he would have read, or had read to him, the reminiscences of other early settlers in the Guelph Evening Mercury. He was mentioned several times but, for whatever reason, never offered his own memories for publication. Through these articles, from which we have already quoted, we get some idea of their tough self-reliant lifestyle. We read of privation, hazardous journeys, crossing dangerous swollen rivers, and people surviving against the odds. The Reverend William Barrie summed it up when he spoke at the opening of the new Presbyterian Church in 1861:

It was no easy matter for the first settlers to get along. They had for years hard toiling and many privations. There was no grist mill nearer to this quarter than Esquesing or Waterloo, which was 23 miles off; and it generally took three or four days to go with a grist of eight bushels to there and come home again. Dundas was the nearest market, and it often took about a week to there and come home again; and the teamster had sometimes to lodge with his oxen in the forest all night. There were cases in which men carried the wheat (about a bushel) on their backs to the grist mill in Waterloo. In some families the wheat was boiled and made food of in that way; but the consequence was dysentery, this led to the use of coffee mills for grinding the wheat. For years no settler had anything to sell, and a York shilling was scarcely ever seen in any person’s possession.

Aaron died on 13th June 1868, aged 86 years. It is said that he was buried alongside Martha. We know that their farmland burial plot had a monument surrounded by a four-foot high stone fence enclosing an area six feet by eight feet. It is told by Frank Day, however, that Aaron’s name was never put on the headstone. In the 1940s the Ontario government ordered the closure of these farm burial plots and the removal of the remains to recognised cemeteries. So it was that the grave marker was moved to the local Everton Cemetery and it is there today. It records:

In Memory of

Who Departed This

Life December 26 1852

Aged 73 years


Below this, now partly worn away, are four lines of text from Psalm 106:


 Happy are they, and only they

Who from thy judgement never stray.

Who know what’s right, not only so,

But always practice what they know.


Was Aaron’s name missed off by some oversight or did he remember a ‘strayed’ lamb some 65 years earlier and decide to not have his own name set there?

Abbott family tradition has it that Aaron had either given to, or helped his eldest son, William, to buy, the farm next to his own while another son, James managed and lived on the home farm. It is also believed in the family that Aaron left the farm to William’s eldest son also called Aaron with the stipulation that he should pay each of his grandchildren $100 when they reached 21 years of age.

Aaron’s will is given in the petition papers entered into the Surrogate Court of Wellington on 20th June 1868. It first gives a list of Aaron’s assets:

                Bedding an Furniture of about the value of                          $  21       00

                Notes of hand amounting to                                                      1034       00

                Also cash in hand                                                                               27         22

                43 lbs of wool value at                                                                     10         74


                                                                                                                                1102       96


It also goes on to give power to his executors to sell off his goods, pay off his debts and funeral expenses and then to distribute the residue as follows:

To my son William the sum of One Dollar – To my son James the sum of One Dollar. To my daughter Elizabeth the sum of One Hundred Dollars and to my granddaughter Martha Talbot Forrester the sum of One Hundred Dollars and the remainder to be divided as equally as they can between my Daughter Hannah and the aforesaid Elizabeth and my Daughter-in-law Mary Abbot wife of my son James share and share alike – and the same to be divided within four years after my decease.

His grandson, also Aaron, was one of the executors, and it seems likely that the land and house had been given to some of his male heirs before his death. Otherwise this will would seem to have been a blow to them. Nevertheless, his son, James, ceased to be a freeholder and the 1871 Census shows him still living with his wife and 8 children in Eramosa but now recorded as a ‘labourer’. His older children are ‘farm servants’ or ‘servants’.  At the wedding of his son William on 2nd April 1874, it states that it took place at ‘the residence of James Abbot lot 7, 5th (or 3rd) line Eramosa’, which was just across the railway line from the small town of Rockwood.  It may be that by this time James was renting a house with just an acre or two of land, with access onto the 5th line (or driveway). At first, the regimented, straight lines of the New World driveways and roads would have seemed alien to the Abbotts after the Ringstead lanes which had followed the history of the land.

The couple stayed in Rockwood where James worked as a labourer on the railroad. James and Mary Ann both died in 1894 and are buried in the town of Durham.

Here and There in Eramosa records of the Abbotts:

. . . the family was influential and widely known in Eramosa as shown by the municipal records and they were particularly noted for vocal and instrumental musical ability*, which they applied generously for the welfare of the local churches and organizations. They were connected with most of the older families of the township by descent or marriage.

[*Note: At the baptism of his daughter Mary on 20th October 1822, at Great Addington, a Charles Abbott was described as ‘Labourer, Carpenter and Musician.’ Music seems to have been in the Abbott genes.]

For Aaron and his family their lives as pioneers in the Eramosa area must have meant hard, unremitting work but they built a new life there and became some of the leading citizens of the new community.



Surprisingly, perhaps, an earlier Addington Abbott’s life followed a similar pattern to Aaron’s. Giles Abbott of Little Addington was committed to gaol, on 17th November 1800, charged with stealing a ‘stirk heifer’ from Elizabeth Fortescue of Thurning. In February of the following year he was found guilty at the Assizes and sentenced to death but was reprieved before the judges left Northampton. His son, also Giles, emigrated to Australia in 1836 and Giles senior with his wife, Hannah followed him a year later. They too seem to have become pillars of their new community and one member of the family, Jacob, became a prominent local pastor.


My thanks to Bob Abbott in Canada who has given me the benefit of all his research into Aaron and his family and to Jane Watt for kindly checking the Palermo graves’ inscriptions.

I would also wish to thank Elysia DeLaurentis at the Wellington County Museum and Archives who did some brilliant research there on my behalf and answered all my questions about the Abbotts' journey and Eramosa and also summarised and copied relevant pages from the following:

Ontario Archives and Land Record Index: Land Abstract Index for Eramosa: Guelph Evening Mercury Wednesday 17th June 1868: Ontario Genealogical Society tombstone transcriptions for Eramosa: Wellington County Surrogate Court probate records 1868: History of Guelph and Townships/Township of Eramosa by James Innes (First pub. Guelph Evening Mercury 2nd – 10th May 1866): Transcription of the Diary of John Harris 1811- 1830: Smith’s Canadian Gazetteer 1846 by Wm. H Smith.

Great Addington, Ringstead, Twywell and Grafton Underwood Parish Registers (Northampton Record Office).

Northampton Mercury (Northampton Record Office and British Newspaper Archive).

The Times. November 18th 1822; January 17th 1822. From the American papers: (Cambridgeshire Libraries online)

Guilty M’lud. Richard Cowley (Peg & Whistle Books 1998)

Grafton Underwood ( ).

Male occupational structure in Northamptonshire 1777 – 1851. Leigh Shaw-Taylor and Amanda Jones .

Lloyds Register of British & Foreign Shipping 1823; 1831 ( )

Papers of the American Slave Trade: Part 1 Port of Savannah Slave Manifests 1790 – 1860 (http://cisupa.proquest/ksc_assets/catalog/100539.pdf )

Speech by Mr Giddings of Ohio on his motion to reconsider the vote taken upon the final passage of the Bill. . . February 13 1843 ( )

Morning Chronicle 31st December 1822; 02 January 1823. Ship News (British Newspaper Archive)

Morning Post 24th September 1822; 05 1822; 02 January 1823 (British Newspapers online)

New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957 (

Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s – 1900s (

Passenger arrivals at the Port of New York 1820-1829. Elizabeth Petty Bentley. . . .

1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia ( )

Eramosa Township Residents in 1867 ( ~wjmartin/eramosa.htm.

Annals of Puslinch 1850 – 1950. (

1861 Census of Canada ( ).

Ontario, Canada Census Index: Census of Canada 1871 (

Here and There in Eramosa. Frank Day Leaman Printing Co. Guelph, Ontario (

Pioneers of Old Ontario (

Reader Comments (2)

Aaron Abbott, My 3rd grt grt grt Uncle, of course my Favourite story and with your help linking me up with Bob Abbott one of Aarons descendant too. Brilliant !

June 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn abbott

Hi Jon
Thanks for the comment. I think it is one of my most complete stories although as with most of them I am sure that there is much more to find out.. David

June 24, 2015 | Registered CommenterDavid Ball

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